NZ Elections & Paulo Friere

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The Treehorn Express is dedicated to the cessation of Kleinist NAPLAN testing in Australia.  Kleinism is a New York version of fear-driven schooling which uses the blanket-testing NAPLAN [its only learning-motivational weapon] to destroy the  reputation of teachers and schools. This weapon was forced on schools in Australia in 2009. It separates ‘haves’ from ‘have nots’ and opens the door for mega-bank-rolling by known curriculum vandals for control of school-based learning. It disrespects school pupils, devalues teachers’ professionalism, threatens Australia’s developmental future and is just no good.  Politely described, it stinks.

Although some ‘education’ groups support it, ideologically, NAPLAN is immoral, unprofessional, politically driven, unrequested by the profession, curriculum destructive, extremely costly, wasteful and divisive. It has a background of malicious intent. 


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Elections & Paulo Friere

“Pedagogy of the Oppressed”

Allan Alach

[It’s a privilege to include this article in Treehorn Express. It first appeared in the outstanding educational journal Education Today produced in New Zealand by Doug Hislop. The magazine includes election comments by candidates on schooling issues.}

On November 25th New Zealanders will be heading off to polling booths to cast their votes to decide the makeup of the next New Zealand government. This particular election is probably, from an education viewpoint, the most significant in New Zealand’s history. There is a branching intersection on the educational road, with vastly different destinations. The alternatives will hopefully have been well detailed by now, one focussing on the New Zealand Curriculum and its vision, principles and values, while the other will lead much further down the standardisation of education path. There is already considerable evidence suggesting that a national testing regime of some sort is already in development, ready for implementation in 2014.

Of the two alternative destinations, the arguments for the ‘whole child’ approach of the New Zealand Curriculum have been very well made in previous editions of Education Today and in many other forums, and these are also well  supported by extensive international and national research and evidence. There is little more that needs to be added to this branch of the road. While there are powerful advocates for the standards and achievement branch, very few of these are recognised educational experts, and there is a distinct lack of international evidence and research to support this. It is far easier to find evidence that this approach essentially does not work, which raises a very pertinent question in itself. Why?

This is a situation that requires some examination to unpick possible reasons. We need to first look at schooling, or more precisely, planned education for children. At the base level, planned education for children is a process of ‘programming’ their brains to function in the world. That is not as negative as it sounds and the education process is hopefully based on positive values, attributes and skills to enable all children to reach their full potential. Obviously though, different educational plans may result in different formal programmes in children’s brains. Vicarious learning, of course, will take place regardless of the best or worst intentions of formal education.

It is the underpinning belief about the purpose of education that is the issue. Crudely speaking, this can be split into two options: a broad, generalist education to enable children to reach their full potentials, wherever these may lie, or a narrower, goal oriented education, for example, to enable children to participate in the work force.  In this context, all educational policies have an underlying political agenda, and so we can then examine them from this perspective.  Given the current emphasis on the narrower standards based educational environment in New Zealand, and similar countries such as Australia, England, Canada and the USA, it is appropriate that this be objectively examined.

One of the great educationalists of the 20th century was Brazilian Paulo Friere (1921 – 1997). Friere spent many years working with poor and dispossessed people in isolated areas of Brazil, and his great book “Pedagogy of the Oppressed” (first published in 1970, latest edition published by Penguin Books, 1996) was developed from his experiences.  His definition of oppressed is vastly different from the pressures faced by those who feel under threat from the current political, economic, education and social policies that are in vogue in many countries, including New Zealand.

However much of his writing can be used to interpret the ideology behind the standardisation of New Zealand education and like countries, and help to explain the oft repeated question “Why don’t they listen?”

In his foreword to the 1996 Penguin edition of this book, Robert Shaull writes,

“There is no such thing as a neutral education process. Education either functions as an instrument that is used to facilitate the integration of the younger generation into the logic of the present system and bring about conformity to it, or it becomes the practice of freedom, the means by which men and women deal critically and creatively with reality, and discover how to participate in the transformation of their world.”

This essay could possibly conclude at this stage, because there, in Shaull’s words “bring about conformity,” is the answer to the minimisation of education through a narrow focus on achievement in literacy and numeracy, to the exclusion of everything else.  Friere has much to add to this, however, and immediately defines his purpose with a quote that was written by Francisco Weffort in a preface to one of his earlier books. This provides the counterpoint for the narrowing of the curriculum.

“The awakening of critical consciousness leads the way to expressions of social discontents precisely because these discontents are real components of an oppressive situation.”

The theme that the ‘oppressors’ do not want the ‘oppressed’ to learn to think and question the basis of their situation is elaborated many times throughout the book. The base situation, according to Friere, is that the oppressed have been, and will need to be, conditioned to accept the status quo.  In the early stages of the development of awareness of their lot, the oppressed struggle to differentiate their awareness from the influences of the oppressor, in order to gain an objective view of the situation, due to their “submersion in the reality of oppression.”

This can be used to explain why so many principals and teachers failed to see the true implications behind the introduction of national standards, under the guise of ‘raising achievement’ until it was too late.

Indeed, it would be plausible to argue that there are still many principals and teachers, let alone parents and the wider community, who have not yet been able achieve this differentiation of awareness that Friere describes.

Taking this further, he observes that people, lacking this consciousness, can also themselves unknowingly contribute to the oppression. Examples of this in the New Zealand education sector are not hard to find, whether in the Ministry of Education, the tertiary sector or in schools. Taking this one step further, it can also be contended that many well meaning Members of Parliament would fit this description.

Extending from this, there are the people who are knowingly contributing to the oppression, having set aside previously held beliefs and values, including those who are seeking personal gain. Again we can find examples of this in the Ministry of Education, universities and other agencies. One could question the integrity and morality of this group.

Friere then examines the relationship between the oppressors and the oppressed;

 “One of the basic elements of the relationship between oppressor and oppressed is prescription. Every prescription represents the imposition of one individual’s choice upon another, transforming the consciousness of the person prescribed to, into one that conforms with the prescriber’s consciousness. Thus the behaviour of the oppressed is a prescribed behaviour, following as it does the guidelines of the oppressor.”

This concept of ‘prescription’ leads directly to mandated standards of achievement. Friere’s pedagogy was developed as a way to enable the oppressed to break free of the influences of their oppressors, through the fostering of questioning and inquiry, to enable them to perceive, for themselves, their own realities and understanding of their oppression. The oppressors, of course, are very aware of the threats that enlightened people would pose to their power base, and therefore it is very much in their interests to maintain and even tighten the prescriptions. This then becomes a battle for the oppressed to “pursue the right to be human,” through the development of every aspect of their potential.

Paradoxically, and again rather appropriately considering the Wall St and other ‘occupations’, Friere also observes that the ‘liberation’ of the oppressed may then leave the former oppressors feeling as though their quality of life has suffered.  “Conditioned by the experience of oppressing others, any situation other than their former seems to them to be like oppression. Formerly they could eat, dress, wear shoes, be educated, travel, and hear Beethoven….”

Any restrictions on these, due to the ‘liberation’ of the oppressed, will seem as a violation of their rights. This does provide a cogent interpretation of the situation in many so-called developed countries, particularly the ones dominated by the three influential plutonomies of USA, Canada and the UK, with Australia and New Zealand ‘tagging along.’ It is an easy matter to use this to interpret the increasing need by the more conservative governments in today’s world, and the power groups behind them, to increase their control over the people, in order to maintain their hegemony and way of life through “a policy of indoctrination of the young” (Noam Chomsky)

Friere contends that oppressors believe that they have the right to live in peace in their world, as the dominant class. This is regardless of the needs of the oppressed, and also “because the existence of the oppressed is necessary to their own existence.” 

This is based on a high degree of possessiveness, leading to everything being viewed as objects at their disposal, and of having a materialistic value.

“Money is the measure of all things and profit the primary goal. For the oppressors, what is worthwhile is to have more – always more – even at the cost of the oppressed having less or nothing.”

Having more is seen by the oppressors as a right, gained through their own efforts. Friere takes this one step further.

“If others do not have, it is because they are incompetent and lazy, and worst of all, is their unjustifiable ingratitude towards the ‘generous gestures’ of the dominant class. Precisely because they are ‘ungrateful’ and ‘envious’ the oppressed are regarded as potential enemies who must be watched.”  


“..the more the oppressors control the oppressed, the more they change them into apparently inanimate ‘things’.”

Pass this through an educational filter, and it leads to the classification of children’s learning as numbers or rankings against standards, in a dehumanising process that is an inevitable result of this world view. No other outcome is possible.  How is this done? Friere address this in the following quote which explains the reduction of ‘education’ to basic literacy and numeracy and the seeming disregard for the humanities.

“As the oppressor consciousness, in order to dominate, tries to deter the drive to search, the restlessness and the creative power which characterise life, it kills life. More and more, the oppressors are using science and technology as unquestionably powerful instruments for their purpose: the maintenance of the repressive order through manipulation and representation.”

Friere wrote this 40 years ago. One wonders how he would have interpreted the technologies of today’s world. Having established this, Friere lays the foundation for his pedagogy to enable the oppressed to reclaim their humanity through the fight for;

…freedom to create and construct, to wonder and to venture. Such freedom requires that the individual be active and responsible, not a slave or well fed cog in the machine…”

He commences by reflecting on the use of education as a means of control, which is probably as old as humanity itself. This is best achieved through a formal teacher-student relationship.

Friere labels this the ‘banking concept of education’ where teachers deposit knowledge in students’ mental ‘bank accounts.’ The more ‘banking’ a teacher does, the better she is determined to be. Students are graded by their abilities in processing, filing and then retrieving ‘deposits’ on demand.  The more able a student is in doing this, the higher her ‘achievement’ is deemed to be.  This concept views knowledge as a gift bestowed by the ‘knowing’ on the ‘unknowing,’ with ‘knowledge’ defined and controlled by those in power, the oppressors.

Friere outlines ten attitudes and practices associated with the ‘banking’ process, and this encapsulates the ideology, and accompanying view of education, that underpins the standardisation of education.

a)  the teacher teaches and the students are taught;

b)  the teacher know everything and the students know nothing;

c)  the teacher thinks and the students are thought about;

d)  the teacher talks and the students listen – meekly;

e)  the teacher disciplines and the students are disciplined;

f)    the teacher chooses and enforces his choice, and the students comply;

g)  the teacher acts and the students have the illusion of acting through the actions of the teacher;

h)  the teacher chooses the programme content, and the students (who were not consulted) adapt to it;

i)    the teacher confuses the authority of knowledge, with her own professional authority, which she sets in opposition to the freedom of the students;

j)    the teacher is the subject of the learning process, while the pupils are mere objects.

Friere explores this in considerable detail, before developing the case for his alternative ‘pedagogy of the oppressed’. This pedagogy is the antithesis of the ‘banking concept,’ focussing on developing awareness through inquiry, so that “people become masters of their own thinking” and are “able to achieve critical consciousness” in order to achieve their human potential.

While the pedagogy is outlined extensively in the book, for the purposes of this essay it is sufficient to state that there are substantial similarities between Friere’s pedagogy, and the child centred, inquiry based, problem solving principles and values of the New Zealand Curriculum.

The purpose of Friere’s pedagogy is to raise consciousness and awareness through inquiry learning, investigations and dialogue to enable the oppressed to claim/reclaim their humanity as individuals and to break free of the constrictions imposed by the oppressors.

The open ended vision of the New Zealand Curriculum “Young people who will be confident, connected, actively involved, life long learners” targets a similar fostering of human potential, enabled by the values, key competencies and inclusion of all curriculum areas. This sits in stark comparison to the narrowing down of the curriculum that has resulted overseas as standards are deemed to take precedence.

The overall intention of the oppressors, as described by Friere, is to control the consciousness of the oppressed, to ensure that they accept the world as it is, to prevent them becoming aware of an alternative reality and therefore to minimise challenges to the dominance of the oppressors. This is the underlying purpose of the ‘banking’ model of education, which accompanies the standardisation of education in so many countries. A reason for disregarding of all the research to the contrary now becomes very clear, as this evidence challenges the very purpose and power base of the oppressors.

Interpreting this very significant book, “Pedagogy of the Oppressed” in the New Zealand context, along with the other agendas that also accompany the standards based ideologies, leads to the only possible conclusion about the whole standards/testing movement.

 As has been written and said many times, standards (and all that are associated with these) are for political and financial purposes and have nothing to do with education.

As Friere wrote, “To glorify democracy and silence the people is a farce.”


Acknowledgement:  Thanks to Nancy Letts, US Educational Consultant ( for invaluable support and guidance.


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Phil Cullen

41 Cominan Avenue

Banora Point

Australia 2486

07 5524 6443

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